Medicare Has a Telehealth Awareness Problem

Uh oh, we’ve got a problem here, if a new survey by HealthMine is correct, and there doesn’t seem be reason to suggest that the information here is not true. So let’s get to it, and you be the judge. The results are these: apparently 57 percent of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older don’t know whether their health plan offers telehealth. Given the age of the folks interviewed (no offense to anyone meant) but that might not be such a surprise.

But, going a bit further, 48 percent of these same folks said they also are not aware of whether they are able to gain access to digital information like their personal health information. While 31 percent of these folks said telehealth capabilities was not an option to them, and 21 percent of these folks said digital access to their personal health information is not available to them.

Despite these facts, there are efforts underway, by legislators and payers, to bring this segment of the population into the fold of telehealth services, and other digital assets related to the health.

Congress continues efforts to bring legislation to expand telehealth services for Medicare patients. For example, under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, hospitals could pilot telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). Therefore, Medicare will cover the services if the systems benchmarks for cost, effectiveness and quality, should the bill pass.

There are other efforts under way, as well. House committees approved two telehealth bills to make telehealth a core benefit of Medicare Advantage plans, while the other would expand telestroke coverage for Medicare patients.

Bryce Williams, president and CEO of HealthMine, said the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida recently highlighted the need for people to be digitally connected to their health. “We are working hand-in-hand with health plans to accelerate digital processes and analytics,” he said in a statement.

However, in a separate study, Medicare payments for telehealth rose 28 percent in 2016 because of an increase in providers offering remote services with their traditional fee-for-service beneficiaries. Total payments were $28,748,210, up from $22,449,968 the previous year.

The number of telehealth claims also grew from 372,518 in 2015 to 496,396 last year, a change of 33 percent. Prior to 2015, about half of all distant site claims lacked a corresponding originating site claim. In 2016, two-thirds of distant site claims included a corresponding originating site claim.

The numbers of Medicare’s telehealth payments, though, are only a fraction of the nearly agency $600 billion overall budget. Encouraging news, nonetheless.

Scott Rupp's picture

Scott Rupp


Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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